Dementia. The word strikes fear into the hearts of many when they hear the words, especially if they've watched anyone go through it. For a well-informed person, however, there are silver linings around the stormy clouds of this diagnosis.
For those dealing with caring for family members diagnosed with dementia, the 7 stages of dementia can be a helpful tool for knowing where your loved one is at in the progression of the disease, and how long they are expected to remain in that stage. This can be an incredibly useful tool for planning purposes, as well as helping us to understand the world from the perspective of the dementia patient.
The early stages of dementia are often unrecognizable for family members and doctors alike, because in those stages, the dementia patient resembles the rest of us. There is basic forgetfulness, but nothing which would raise red flags. Forgetting people's names or where they've put things becomes more common, but is also common in people with many children or people that live with a large amount of stress. These stages of the disease can last for 7 or more years!
The middle stages of dementia get a bit more intense, with symptoms ranging from forgetfulness to inability to travel alone, manage finances alone, or concentrating. This is also the time period in which many people begin to withdraw from social situations because the memory issues make it awkward to deal with. This stage is also an incredibly important one for the caregiver. Learning how to talk to a dementia patient can make all the difference. Communicating clearly in a patient manner while sticking to one topic at a time will help to make your interactions a much happier affair for both of you. These stages can last 6 or more years.
Finally, the late stages are marked by extreme confusion, incontinence, inability to speak and or walk. This stage is difficult for all the parties involved, and can last up to 2.5 years. Knowing the life expectancy of a patient with dementia, as well as the signs that death is near can be helpful in processing the emotions that come with the initial diagnosis. Knowing the average length of each stage can be of great benefit to families trying to navigate the difficult road dementia care for someone that they care about. It gives us a time frame to deal with, an idea of what dreams may be possible to fulfill with that loved one and how much time we can look forward to enjoying their company. It also gives us time to prepare ourselves for the final stages and beyond.
The silver lining in this storm cloud is that there is time. Let's use the time we have left to the best of our ability & spend it with those we care about.